What is CDPAP?
As you begin your caregiving journey, understand exactly what being a Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) caregiver involves. CDPAP is a New York-based program which works with Medicaid to allow patients or consumers to recruit and hire caregivers. Often, this program will allow for caregivers to be relatives or close friends rather than a stranger.
Before the caregiver is hired, the person receiving the care must complete several assessments to certify they require homecare. It is also required that the person be capable of representing themselves throughout the caregiving process, or have someone represent them for decision-making.
The advantage of CDPAP is that it gives autonomy and decision-making rights to the patient or person needing care. People struggling with mental health may be more inclined to receive care from someone they know, making the program a great way to receive support.
How to be an Effective Caregiver to Someone With a Mental Health Illness
Just as with any care profession, the more you know, the better prepared you will be to help and support the person you are caring for. Although a reported 20% of adults in the United States suffer from a mental health illness, only recently has the topic started receiving more attention.
The list of mental illnesses is very long, and taking time to understand what person receiving care is suffering from will help you best know how to support them through the process. The person may not know themselves what they are suffering from, or want to accept that they have mental illness, so patience is absolutely crucial when caregiving. Possible mental illnesses include:
● Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
● Bipolar Disorder (BD)
● Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It is important to remember that it is not your role nor responsibility as a caregiver to diagnose a person with a specific mental illness. Even if the person tries to self-diagnose, only a professional doctor has the qualifications to properly diagnose a person with a mental health disorder.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
Emergencies may occur when caregiving to someone with mental illness. If something serious occurs, it is important to be aware of resources and steps to take in order to best handle the situation. That said, it is important to remember that it is not your fault, and that there are professional resources available to help deal with these situations. Emergencies may include:
● Self-harm (including physical or mental)
● Suicide attempts
● Threats to themselves or to people around them
● Sporadic, dangerous behavior
● Manic or panic episodes
It may not always be easy whether a situation is a life-threatening emergency. That said, it is always better to be safe and reach out to professional emergency services in case unexpected behavior occurs. For these kinds of situations, you should always have on hand the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and police phone numbers on hand.
According to the official government mental health website, only 44% of adults suffering from mental illness receive treatment, and 22% for children. Although mental health awareness is growing, there is still a lot of taboo and misinformation surrounding the topic of mental illness. As a personal caregiver, it is important to remind the person receiving care that mental illness is normal, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
If the person is not receiving treatment, encouraging them to is another step to take to best provide caregiving support. Although you can help them on their journey to recovery, therapy, medication, and hospitalization are all treatment methods which are available and done by professionals.
If the person you are caring for is showing resistance to the idea of receiving treatment, avoid making them feel bad or guilty about it by telling them that they are making a wrong decision. Instead, try to be as patient as possible, and offer alternative solutions such as creating a self-help plan with a template such as this one, which may give the person a greater sense of autonomy and freedom.
Recovery is a long and complicated process, but one of the most essential parts is having autonomy and self-determination in life. For patients suffering from mental illness, a sense of lack of control over their life can worsen their emotional state. By giving them freedom and the possibility to choose for themselves, you may be giving them a new perspective on life, and give them hope for a better future.
Being a Friend
Feeling like a burden to the people around them is something many people suffering from any illness may feel, especially if they are receiving care. Reminding them that they are loved, and that they are more than their illness, is one of the best things a caregiver can do to help them through the process of recovery.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a wide variety of great resources when it comes to supporting someone with mental illness. For example, when asking questions about how someone is feeling, NAMI recommends focusing on “I” sentences rather than “you” to avoid making the person feel guilty about their state. For example:
● “I have noticed you are eating less. Is there a meal I can make that you would enjoy?”
● “I can see you are feeling kind of down today. Is there a friend I can reach out to that you would like to talk with?”
● “I am worried about certain behaviors I have noticed recently. Is it okay with you if I reach out to your therapist?”
Just like with any relationship, there is no one way to be a good friend. That said, the best things to do as a mental health caregiver is regularly checking in, creating a safe space for the person suffering, and reminding them that you truly value them for things other than their illness.
Taking Care of Yourself As a Caregiver
When it comes to being a caregiver, learning and practicing self-care consistently is an indispensable part of the task, especially when it is for someone with mental illness. Caregiving is a rewarding yet draining job, and knowing how to take time for yourself is essential to avoid burnouts. In this section, we will be looking at different ways to take care of yourself as, and resources for, a caregiver.
Basics to Self Care
Broadly speaking, self care means taking the time to maintain your physical and mental health. This can be done in a wide variety of ways, and will vary for each person. Before and during the caregiving process, you should spend some time taking note of what is most important for you when taking care of your own health.
Taking Time for Yourself
Caregiving is a time- and energy-consuming job. It may happen that on your days off, you continue thinking about the person you are helping, making it difficult to get a real break. Before you begin the caregiving process, take some time to think and write down different activities that are rejuvenating for your spirits. These may include:
● Going on a walk in a park or a natural reserve
● Meeting up with some friends for coffee
● Visiting a museum
● Going to a spa
● Going to the movie theater
These could also include more basic things such as turning off your phone for an evening, taking a bath, or making yourself your favorite meal. It isn’t just about what you do, but the intentions behind it. Try to focus on yourself during these moments, and allow yourself to stop thinking about the outside world, including your work, as you take care of yourself.
Getting Enough Sleep
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends adults between the ages of 18 and 60 get an average of seven hours of sleep per night. This will vary based on a variety of factors including daily physical activity, quality of sleep, and certain medical conditions. That said, what is important is not only the duration of sleep, but the quality of it. The CDC has an extensive list of tips for better sleep if the stress from your job is affecting your rest.
Growing amounts of research continue to prove that exercise is an extremely important part of any individual’s life, and making time to perform regular, physical activities is necessary to maintain proper health. The list of benefits is extensive, and can include:
● Better sleep
● Better mental health
● Increase in energy
● Reduction in risk of chronic illness and disease
● Help blood sugar levels
Incorporating physical activity into your life does not have to be a time-consuming task. Going for a 30-minute walk in the morning before work, taking a class at your local gym, or following online workout tutorials from the comfort of your home are all easy ways to stay fit and healthy. They can also be fun activities such as dancing, swimming, and shopping.
Caregiver Support Resources
If you are feeling down, depressed, or stressed during your caregiving, always remember that you are not alone and that there are many resources available to help alleviate the mental strain you will likely face at some point in the process. Given the emotional weight of caring for a sick person, it is perfectly normal to have bad days or burnouts. Here are some tips for identifying possible burnouts, and what to do if you are struggling as a caregiver.
Identifying a Caregiver Burnout
A caregiver burnout is the state of mental or physical exhaustion a caregiver may reach due to the difficulty of the process. Seeing someone you give care for suffer is difficult for anyone, and sometimes this reaches a breaking point which may lead to depression, anxiety, or sickness. Some early signs of a potential burnout include:
● Poor sleep quality
● Increased irritability
● Lack of appetite
● Social anxiety or increased isolation
● Depressive or suicidal thoughts
If you notice any of these symptoms in your behavior developing, it is time to reach out for help. This may mean seeing a therapist, talking to trusted loved ones, or taking some time off from the caregiving work. It is important to act as soon as these symptoms arise in order to prevent more serious and dangerous behavior from occurring.
Creating a Support System
Talking about your own mental health struggles as a caregiver can be extremely difficult, especially if you are caring for someone with mental illness. Creating a support network of people you trust such as friends and family can help take off pressure and stress. Asking them to check in regularly on you, having their contact information on hand, and setting up regular meetings such as coffee once a week with loved ones is a great way to perform self care.
Caregiver Support Groups
While talking with friends and family about the caregiving process and its difficulties is important, it may be difficult for people who are not caregivers to truly understand and empathize with what you are living through. Luckily, there are many online and in-person caregiver support groups available to speak with other caregivers possibly facing similar difficulties as you are. The Caregiver Action Network has many groups and other resources available for caregivers.
Caregiving is a rewarding, important, and life changing task, but it is not an easy one. Mental health is particularly difficult to be a caregiver for because there is not as much research available as with other diseases, and each person struggling with mental illness will have a very personal experience with it. Listening, having patience, and remembering to take care of yourself are some of the most important parts of being a caregiver for someone with mental illness.
If you are struggling as a caregiver, remember to seek out help because your health is just as important as that of the person you are caring for. Do not wait until it is too late to receive the necessary support to avoid any possible burnouts or long-term mental struggles which can develop from caregiving.